J a m e s   C l a f f e y

the ribboned corpse cold

When I was six there was a hollow recess in my chest where the parasite lived. Mam warned us about the dangers of getting a “worm.” She meant a tapeworm, brought about from dirty hands, or undercooked meat. Dinners were burnt offerings, the blackened flesh of fowl and beast, duck with more crunch than autumn leaves, chains of Denny’s sausages like iron. She bought the cheap cuts, the fatty bits—poor people’s food. If we dared protest, the wooden spoon would be raised above Mam’s head.  

The worm grew, fed on grains of rice and remnants of pear-flavored Heinz baby food. My secretive friend formed into a small mound of pasta-like material. I tickled him under his non-head, the worm-eyes plaintively searching for more food. My friend crept from under my sweatshirt and surrounded a gleaming pile of yeast. The bit on my finger tasted awful, and I ate a stale crust instead and waited for him to finish. In the morning, the worm was still, the ribboned corpse cold against my skin. Mam went across the road for a cup of tea with our neighbor, and I buried the tapeworm in the flowerbed, under her favorite hydrangea.